Sunday, February 03, 2008

Citation manager in Word 2007

Well it only took twenty years but Word 2007 provides a citation management feature. This might well be the single biggest reason to upgrade to Office 2007. Unfortunately the citation management is not quite what it should be.

The biggest problem is that the only way I have found to import citations from papers is to enter them into the tedious Microsoft provided form. This despite the fact that the whole point of standardized citation formats is that they create a regular expression that can be parsed automatically. Nor does Word 2007 appear to support the standard citation formats (Bibtex/Scribe, Endnote). This means entering the data is unnecessary makework.

A related problem is that Word 2007 does not support a personal citation service either. I have two machines I use frequently, one is currently broken so I am using a third. I would like to be able to hook up to my personal citation library from whatever machine I am on. It should be possible to import citations into the library easily.

Another problem is the restrictive formats offered for citations. I know all about ISO citation format. Frankly the people who put it together were snobs. The only format for which URIs are supported is a 'web document'. This despite the fact that academic papers are increasingly published online. I don't care what the ossiffied gnomes of ISO think, I have a URI and that for me is critical information I want to provide the reader with regardless of what the for-profit academic publishing racket thinks about the Web.

Nor do I think much of the 'accessed on' nonsense. I can't think why the reader would be interested in the date I accessed a document unless the 1) the document was likely to change over time and 2) there was some means of calling up a particular version. If the latter the appropriate way to deal with the situation would be for Word to automatically cache the document or better enter the document into some sort of shared cache repository.

There are copyright issues in caching to be sure. But in most cases the cached data is intended to be public. When a document is for sale the URL is more likely to be stable in any case.

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